Exurban America—the fringe of every metropolitan region, where new subdivisions creep into the surrounding countryside—has boomed over recent decades as younger families and couples have followed the real estate mantra “Drive till you qualify.” A mortgage on your dream house becomes more affordable if you’re willing to drive farther into greenfield developments, where land prices are much lower than in cities or established suburbs.

St. Michael, Minnesota—a small town on the interstate, twenty-five miles northwest of Minneapolis, whose population has ballooned from 1,500 in 1980 to more than 16,000 today—is a classic exurban community. Resident Krysta Schrader describes it as “very un-walkable. We drive to a trail so we can walk through the woods. You can’t walk to a store.”

She and her husband moved there fifteen years ago because it was affordable and located between their two work-
places—she owns a spa in the heart of Minneapolis, and he owns a truck repair and sales business in Rice, fifty miles north of St. Michael on Interstate 94.

“I’m a city girl,” Schrader says, “so we didn’t live together for the first year and a half we were married because I didn’t want to leave Minneapolis. But living there means he would have to drive an hour and a half each way.”

One compensation of exurban life for Schrader is a big yard, where she keeps a garden and tackles ambitious landscaping projects. And since she works five days a week in Minneapolis, she notes, “I am able to do a lot of walking when I’m in the city. Everything I need is right by the salon. I walk around the lake near there and walk over to the grocery store before I head home.”

But Schrader’s husband still faces a fifty-minute commute each way. Schrader can make it to work in thirty-five minutes if she sets her schedule to avoid rush-hour traffic. “We work long hours and then spend more time in the car,” she says, “so we really don’t know many people here. They’re very nice, and have helped us dig our cars out of the snow, but we don’t see much of them.”

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Jay Walljasper, author of the Great Neighborhood Book, is a Minneapolis-based writer, speaker, and community consultant.